People think of Italian Americans either as Renaissance scholars or ‘Sopranos’. But we’re so much more diverse, we’ve got scientists, industrialists, and people in every walk of life where there have been contributions.
We can vividly imagine that not too long ago, the Italian community, like many ethnic groups found in huge cities, enveloped by actual or imagined “boarders” tended to limit the outlook of occupational contingency. These enclaves of first and second generation Italians were generally populated by workers in every facet of the building trades, various shops, and city workers in one office or another. Simply put, the focus of Italians then, was not the world of academia.
However, as time went by, Italians in America were deemed essential to the daily life of the community. In spite of their simplicity, notable contributions were made as a result of their innate creativity and hard work.
The following people can be acknowledged by significant contributions made to the American education:
• Leonard Covello
As the first Italian American principal, he fulfilled his dream of community-centered education with the foundation of Benjamin Franklin High School (East Harlem, 1934-56), an institution that advocated the preservation of Italian- American culture.
• Peter Sammartino
Dr. Sammartino pioneered the Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1904- 1992. Presently, Fairleigh Dickinson University is the largest private university in New Jersey; with an enrollment of 12,000 and campuses in Teaneck- Hackensack, Rutherford, and Florham Park- Madison.
• James Laita
He was one of the seven men chosen by Benjamin Franklin to attend the College of Philadelphia.
• Mother Frances Cabrini
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (Mother Cabrini) together with seven young women pioneered the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In totality, she has established 67 institutions: schools, hospitals, and orphanages.
• Fr. John Nobili and Fr. Michael Accolti
The arrival of Fr. Accolti and Fr. Nobili in San Francisco on December 8, 1849 paved to the foundation of the University of Santa Clara, which is considered one of the oldest universities in America. The Nobili Residence Hall by Santa Clara University Housing is then built in dedication to John Nobili.
• Joseph Cataldo
A Jesuit priest, he founded Gonzaga University located in Spokane, Washington State.
• Francesco Rosario Stabile
He founded the “Banca Stabile” which provided telegraph, travel via steam ships, notary public, and post-office.
• Father Giovanni Grassi
Aside to being the president of Georgetown University (known formerly as Georgetown College), Father Giovanni Grassi is also a well-known Italian physician and zoologist.
• Linda Lantieri
Linda Lantieri is currently the director of The Inner Resilience Program and senior program advisor of Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
• Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D.
Rosemarie Truglio is the senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshop. She is responsible for the interdisciplinary curriculum on which “Sesame Street” is based. Before joining Sesame Workshop in 1997, she worked as an assistant professor of communication and education at Teacher’s College.
Just this April 7, 2015, the New York Conference of Italian- American State Legislators announced the allotment of $10,000 statewide budget for academic and athletic scholarships . The Italian- American community aims to work to elevate its contributions not only culturally, but educationally as well.